Augusta Foote Arnold:

America's First Woman Seashore Naturalist Writer
Marine Life Found on Pacific Seashores and Atlantic Seashores

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Conservation Biologist & Geographer

Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, CA 90293
May, 2008

"The first popular guide to the intertidal zone was The Sea-Beach at Ebb-Tide published by August[a] Foote Arnold in 1901. The volume is still available as Dover Publications, Inc., New York, reprinted in 1968. The great emphasis is for the identification of Atlantic coast plants and animals, but the treatment also includes discussions of nearly 100 Pacific coast genera and several species." Quotation from Common Intertidal Invertebrates of Southern California, in the preface of the second edition.
Richard Knapp Allen, Ph.D, Professor, California State University at Los Angeles, 1978

"The lady who compiled this book (which includes the fauna of both coasts of North America) must have been a remarkable person. The book is essentially sound, although the nomenclature is out of date. However, the treatment is predominantly Atlantic coast." Quotation from Between Pacific Tides, in the annotated bibliography of the fourth edition.
Joel Walker Hedgpeth, Ph.D, Director, Dillon Marine Station, University of the Pacific, 1968

"Deals mainly with animals of the east coast. Many names are out of date." Quotation from Natural History of Marine Animals, in annotated bibliography of first edition.
George Iber MacGinitie (Ph.D) and Nettie MacGinitie (M.S.), Kerckhoff Marine Station Directors, Newport Beach, California Institute of Technology, 1949

"Nomenclature obsolete." Quotation from Between Pacific Tides, in first edition.
Edward Flanders Ricketts, Owner, Pacific Biological Laboratories, Monterey, California, 1939

"Well-illustrated account of Atlantic Coast seaweeds and invertebrate animals." Quotation from West Coast Marine Shells, in annotated bibliography.
Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D, Professor, San Diego State College, 1927

"Some observers [Augusta Foote Arnold] maintain that they [urchins] chisel away the rocks with their teeth by constantly turning round and round, and by continued effort gradually increase the size of their cave." Quotation from Seashore Animals of the Pacific Coast, in the text of first edition.
Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D, Professor, San Diego State College, 1927

"A Well illustrated and interestingly written guide to the study of the marine invertebrates and plants." Quotation from Echinoderms of Connecticut, in annotated bibliography of first edition.
Wesley Roswell Coe, 1912


Augusta Foote Arnold was born on 24 October 1844 in Seneca Falls, Seneca, New York. She died in 1904 at 60 years old. She married Frances Benjamin Arnold on 6 March 1869 in Washington, D.C. She had two sons. Her life's work and magnum opus classic book on the seashore life of the United States was published in 1901. The title of her book says a great deal about her focus of the book: "The Sea-Beach at Ebb-Tide." Using this little bit of information, we can state that she was 57 years old at the time of the book publication. She died two years later in 1903. At least four book reviews appeared shortly after her book was published. It is abundantly clear from these book reviews, as well as my careful perusal of her book, and the quotes particularly by the note marine biologists, Joel Hedgpeth (see quote above) and Richard Allen (see quote above) that her book was thorough and that as it was her life's work, there was a great deal of research that went into writing her book. A cursory perusal of her book leads me to this conclusion. A closer look at her acknowledgements reveals the great number of scientists and naturalists with which she consulted and sought permission for reproduction of photographs and illustration, which is quite impressive to this scientist and naturalist. In the future, I hope to add additional comments that demonstrate this intense research done by a remarkable woman at the close of the 19th Century and culminated in bringing out to the public a new book at the very beginning of the 20th Century.

Interestingly, several other natural history guides also appeared around this time period for the first time, also by women naturalist writers without academic training. For example, the very first book on wildlfowers of the United States was written in 1893. And in 1897, the very first book on California wildflowers was published. These two books are classics now, and written less than a decade before Augusta Foote Arnold's classic work was printed. I believe there are some further avenues of research into the history of natural history and its popularization that could be investigated. In fact, several of the first popular field guides to birds of North America appear during the 1890s and early 20th Century, also by women, but also by some men, with ecofeminist philosphies.


Did the writings of Ms. Augusta Foote Arnold inspire Rachel Carson to become a marine biologist? Would this book, which was promoted in the popular children's magazine of the day, "St. Nicolas Magazine" and read by Rachel Carson, been discovered by Rachel as child at her local library? Another noted writer of our 20th Century, John Steinbeck, and an avocational marine biologist, who collaborated with California's most famous marine biologist, Edward Ricketts, also read St. Nicolas Magazine as a child. This childhood fascination with nature was not unique to them, but thousands of children in the early 20th Century were fascinated with studying nature. Often, their mother's were the one member of the family with an interest in nature, and gave this interest and passion of nature freely to her child. Recent biographies of Rachel Carson and John Steinbeck, which both mention the "St. Nicolas Magazine" form the basis of this working hypothesis.

Why did Richard Knapp Allen, PhD from Utah State University, and professor of biology at California State University Los Angeles, write so glowingly of her book and research in his 1978 classic work on marine life of the seashore of Southern California: "Common Intertidal Invertebrates of Southern California? He is one a handful of California Marine Biologists and zoologists to write about Augusta Foote Arnold. He stated that she wrote about approximately 100 marine invertebrates found on the California seashore, many of them restricted to southern California and Baja California.

And why did the noted marine biologist and historan of marine biology, Joel Hedgpeth, write such an interesting and curious statement of admiration and surprise about Augusta Foote Arnold in the fourth edition (1968) of "Between Pacific Tides" by Edward Ricketts?

It is clear that both Richard Knapp Allen and Joel Walker Hedgpeth were "breaking through" to understanding the history of marine biology and invertebrate zoology on the Pacific Coast, as did Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson, Edward Ricketts, George MacGinitie and Nettie MacGinitie before them?

The only other three marine biologists that I have been able to discover, thus far, whom said anything about Augusta Foote Arnold were Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson, Edward Ricketts and the MacGinities (George and Nettie) in those now classic books on California marine biology and seashore life found there. Interestingly, these earlier writers were neutral and did not write glowingly of Ms. Augusta Foote Arnold's book, but instead wrote only a brief sentence or two, which stated that her book had outdated nomenclature for the scientific names of the marine life. However, it must be noted that it is natural for nomenclatural name changes of animals especially in this period of taxonomy between 1901 and the publication of books by Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson (Seashore Life of the Pacific Coast), Ricketts' 1939 book (Between Pacific Tides) and MacGinitie & MacGinitie's 1949 book (Natural History of Marine Animals), so it seems acceptable to me that her book has some "old" scientific names. These were not "old" names in 1901, but actually current names, as it is clear that Augusta Foote Arnold was a thorough researcher and writer. I don't think that either Ricketts or the MacGinities actually meant anything negative in their writings because they (Ricetts' and MacGinities) proudly listed her book in their bibliography in the first place.

Another avenue of research, via "Who's Who in America" discovered that she was a member of the Torrey Botanical Club and a member of the AAAS. These memberships indicate that she took seriously her interest and passion in natural history and science. Here is another avenue of research for a future time.

Other avenues of research to consider in the future are the four book reviews that were written in 1901, shortly after her book was published and printed. That presentation will have to await the next edition and draft of this preliminary report on the "life and times" of Augusta Foote Arnold. In the next addition, I also hope to list the approximately 100 marine invertebrates that Richard Knapp Allen boldly announces in the Preface of his 1978 book (second edition), which debuted 30 year ago this year (1978-2008). I have begun to compile the list directly from Augusta Foote Arnold's book. At this time, I can say that the focus of these 100 marine invertebrates is strongly focused on crustacea (crabs), as well as mollusca (snails and clams) and a few of the echinoderms (seastars, sea cucumbers, and allies). It would appear that these were the taxonomic groups most well known in California in the late 19th Century and earliest 20th Century. She apparently communicated with a famous woman naturalist and scientist, Mary Rathbun, at the Smithonian Institution regarding the crustacea (crabs) and with Josiah Keep and his 19th Century classic book on seashells of California. I have not a clue as yet, how she was able to know some of the echinoderms (seastars and sea cucumbers) of southern California. And lastly, I know not if she ever visited California and Los Angeles County because she does not state anything about travels from New York and Washington D.C to California and the Pacific Coast. I am suspicious that she relied completely on other sources of writings about California for inclusion of species in her book. It is interesting to speculate and contemplate on her possible late 19th Century travel to California, most likely by train. There are two very famous male naturalists, John Muir and John Burroughs, who both traveled in late life between California and the Eastern United States by train, so it is possible that she indeed visit the California seashore between the 1870s and 1890s?

Book Reviews During 1901(Coming Soon in Second Edition)

American Naturalist Book Review.

Allen, Richard Knapp. 1978. Common Intertidal Invertebrates of Southern California. Second Edition. T.H. Peek Publishers.

Coe, Wesley Roswell. 1912. Echinoderms of Connecticut. State Geological and Natural History Survey, Hartford, Coonecticut Bulletin No. 19; State of Connecticut Public Document No. 47. 152p.

Hedgpeth, Joel Walker. 1968. Revised Bibliography, in Ricketts, Edward Flanders, Between Pacific Tides, Fourth Edition. Stanford University Press.

Johnson, Myrtle Elizabeth. 1927. Seashore Animals of the Pacific Coast.

Johnson, Myrtle Elizabeth. 1938. West Coast Marine Shells. Science Guide for Elementary Schools Volume 4, Number 9. California State Department of Education.

MacGinitie, George Iber and Nettie MacGinitie. 1949. Natural History of Marine Animals. McGraw-Hill Publishers.